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UNICEF Says Even In 2020, Newborns Are Still Vulnerable

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Baby New Year is a traditional symbol of the promise of a new year. And there will be about 400,000 actual new babies born around the world today. That is according to UNICEF, the U.N. agency that oversees children.

More than half of those new babies will be born in just eight countries. They include Pakistan, and that is where NPR's Diaa Hadid went to meet one of 2020's new arrivals.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: This five-pound baby is wrapped in a pink blanket near her mother, 28-year-old Ambreen Saddam. She doesn't have a name yet. She was born just a few hours ago.

AMBREEN SADDAM: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: Saddam says the date makes her daughter's birth even sweeter. Over half the babies born today will be in just eight countries - in order, India, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, the U.S.A., the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia.

The U.N. says the world's population is expected to increase to 9.7 billion in the next three decades. And if you want to know where global demographics are trending, give or take, it's where the babies are being born today. You get a sense of that at the hospital in Islamabad. Fathers wait outside with children. There's a park with kids playing on a swing. And inside, the maternity ward is crammed with mothers, their newborns and relatives.

UNICEF says it's calling attention to newborns because those first few weeks of life are so perilous. Newborns account for nearly half of all deaths of children under 5. Dr. Samia Rizwan is with UNICEF.

SAMIA RIZWAN: The concerning reason is that these newborns are dying due to preventable causes, which are birth asphyxia, prematurity and sepsis

HADID: Rizwan says most of those babies could survive if women gave birth with skilled health attendants. But in Pakistan, nearly one-third of all women give birth without any medical help. Even women who get a nurse, doctor or midwife often don't get their full attention.

RIZWAN: They are overburdened, so sometimes they cannot give the due attention to that mother who is about to deliver.

HADID: Rizwan says that's largely because Pakistan's high birthrate means health services are constantly overwhelmed. And the high birthrate is partly because women don't have access to reliable and affordable contraception. But Ambreen Saddam says she's happy with just one baby. She winces when we ask if she'll have another.

RIZWAN: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says, not for now. Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLUE STATES' "YOUR GIRL (SUNRISE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.